I’m the type of person who likes to savor the moments that seem scripted – too perfect to be real. I have always been a big fan of films, of love songs, and of Fitzgerald’s portraits of bourgeois life. Not until recently have I discovered that these things are not an accurate depiction of reality. Why wasn’t there a ukulele on cue every time I felt that sunshine in my chest? Why didn’t I know how to say the perfect thing at the perfect time to the cute boy at the party? These are the rose-colored glasses that media has over our personal and social lives.
France is not all macarons and romance. French actor and comedian, Gad Elmaleh, expressed this naive ideal in his Netflix special, “American Dream.” He says, women often day dream of Paris and they “want to see an old man sitting on the bench playing accordion.” “He is Romanian!” Gad says. “…but I want to walk down cobblestone streets in the moonlight.” Gad- “That’s dangerous!
After arriving in Strasbourg, France from my hometown of Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, my first few days in France felt like this naïve ideal. I ate baguettes, I passed men playing the accordion on the street, I watched elderly men with flat caps and pipes leisurely ride bikes, I drank espresso at corner cafés, and I looked for Romeo from my balcony…it was surreal. I mean, look what my living room looks like!
Embrace Your Language Learning, Mistakes and All
You come to your senses when the language barrier hits you. At home, you get A’s on your tests. You think you understand a good portion of what your professor teaches you in French, and then you come to the host country and you can barely get “hello” out of your mouth.
To represent a bit of the language struggle I’ve had here: let me recite a conversation I had with my host family last month:
Me: J’aime bien la nourriture francaise parce-que c’est réel et naturel. (I like French cuisine because it is real and natural)
Host mother: Et la nourriture américaine? (And American food ?)
Me: La nouriturre américaine a beaucoup de…ugh..ooh..préservatifs. (American food has a lot of préservatives)
Host mother: Excusez-moi?
Me: ?? (Oh no!)
The correct word for preservatives is “additives.” My deductive reasoning was simply… way off. Preservatifs means, well, you can probably guess. I basically told my host parents that American food has a lot of condoms in it.
The other day, my friend and I ordered ice cream. I ordered one scoop (une boule) of nougat ice cream, while she ordered one scoop of blood orange sorbet. She said, “Je voudrais une boule de sang.” Only she forgot the « orange » part of that sentence, and basically said she’d like a ball of blood. Vegans these days!
Long story short, learning a new language is hard. It’s not the same as memorizing vocabulary and grammar for a test, and then forgetting it the next day. You must be on your feet thinking, formulating phrases in your head, trying to understand what in the world your host family is trying to tell you all while zoning out for two seconds looking at the pretty bird in the window. I’ve really been struggling with my language, and I feel a bit behind since a lot of the people in my program are French majors. Nevertheless, I try to keep a positive mindset and do the best I can.
Letting Go Of Expectations
When you hear about someone’s study abroad experience, you only here an edited version of the story. As time passes, our brains have this wonderful way of remembering the good times over the bad, just as we’re less critical of an image we took 1 year ago vs. 1 day ago. In the moment, however, when some days aren’t perfect, it can be frustrating. You think, “Why did I even come?” “Everyone is having more fun than me,” “I don’t deserve this opportunity.” Again, the root of all of this is expectation. You all remember Hillary Duff in the Lizzie McGuire Movie, right? The one where she goes to Italy and meets her superstar, twin sister and a cute Italian boy named Paolo? I’d be on my way back to the U.S. if that was what I was expecting. Studying abroad is what you make of it – now that’s what dreams are made of.
A good example of this happened last month. Strasbourg is the number one bike-friendly city in France, so naturally I decided to rent a bike one Thursday afternoon in September. Pulling out my handy GPS, because I am directionally challenged, I clicked on a bike service shop closest to me, called Vélhop. On my way there, my GPS led me through a Botanical Garden. The gardens were nice, but I didn’t know how to get out of them. I expected to find an exit, but after strolling through the gardens in its entirety, I ended up exiting the same way I came in. As I finally approached Vélhop, I realized it wasn’t a boutique but a self-service station. This was not what I expected because I wanted to make sure I got the right size bike, a student discount, etc. I found the next closest rental location on GPS, walked to it, and found another self-service station. Yippee. Not wanting to give up, I decided to go to the station that I pass on my way to school. When I arrived, they didn’t have any bikes left and redirected me to another one in the center of the city. Okay. Whilst walking the 20 minutes there, it started pouring down rain. I remained positive, because I knew I would get home faster on my newly rented bike. When I arrived, they told me they didn’t accept credit cards. AAAAH!
Two hours of wasted time, I thought. I had no choice but to walk back home, absolutely drenched, with people sitting in cozy in cafes gaping at the silly girl walking in the rain with squeaky shoes and mascara running down her face. Looking back on it, nothing completely terrible happened. It was inconvenient, but it was also romantic in a sense. It’s something I’ll remember, and it was a good lesson of determination.
Make The Most Of Your Time Abroad
As I’m sitting here writing this, it is Sunday, October 7, 2018. OCTOBER! I’ve been in France for more than a month. I have a little more than two months left. One day you can barely get “Bonjour” out of your mouth, and the next you’re baking banana bread for your host family. Time is really a precious thing, isn’t it? I feel like I could stay here another semester as 4 months is just not enough. There are so many things I want to do…and absolutely not enough time to do them all. As I continue my journey here, I hope I continue to make developments in my language and self-discovery and be as happy as I am in this photo! Au revoir until next time!
Find a recipe for tarte aux quetsches below. It’s a popular French tart made with plums that I’ve absolutely fallen in love with.
Tarte aux Quetsches:
For the crust (pâte sablée):
1/4 lb. (110 g) unsalted butter
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp. white sugar
1 cup (130 g) plus 2 tbsp. flour
For the filling:
1-1/4 lb. (600 g) blue plums
3-4 tbsp. cassonade or demerara sugar
1 tsp. additional butter
In a medium-size bowl, cut the butter into small pieces. Using two knives, cut in the egg yolk, then the sugar, then the flour. This is easily done. Simply hold the knives parallel to each other and cut in opposite directions.
When the butter is well coated with flour, go in with your hands for the final blending. Mix until the dough is no longer sticky and holds together in a ball. You may need to add a bit more flour. Form the ball and let the dough rest for a minute or two. Then pat the dough into your pie pan, taking care to ensure there are no cracks. Place in the fridge to cool for at least 10 minutes.
While the crust is cooling, rinse the plums, cut them in half and remove the pits. Arrange them in the cooled pie shell in concentric circles, beginning with the outer ring and working inward. If you tilt the plums a little, you can make the circles go prettily in opposite directions, as shown in the photo. Sprinkle the plums with the cassonade, using less sugar for sweet plums, more if they are tart. Dot with butter.
Preheat your oven to gas mark 5 (375 F, 190 C). Bake for 30-40 minutes. The tart is done when the edges of the plums have begun to brown and the juice is bubbling. Serves 4-6.
Recipe borrowed from everydayfrenchchef.com.
About the Author – Liuba Miranosava, fall 2018 Strasbourg, France Storyteller & Elizabethtown College student
My name is Liuba Miranosava and I am a Junior Accounting Major at Elizabethtown College. After graduation, I intend to get my CPA license and work at a public accounting firm. I chose to do the program in Strasbourg because it was the only program in France affiliated with my college where I could live with a host family and attend a French university rather than an American host institution. Strasbourg is also a cross between two cultures: French and German, so it’s almost like studying abroad in two countries at once!